Wednesday 12 November 2014

Let in the Stars: New Poetry for Children (Manchester Writing School, 2014), selected by Imtiaz Dharker and Philip Gross, edited by Mandy Coe         
Reviewed by Dianne Bates   

Troubled by a severe decline in the number of publishers launching new poetry for children, and the lack of opportunities for writers of children’s poems to reach an audience in print, UK children’s poetry laureate, Carol Ann Duffy took action. She and her team at the Manchester Metropolitan Writing School launched an international search for the best new poetry written for children. Thousands of poems were submitted and the work of 30 poets – based in the UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Uganda, and the USA – was selected by and collected into this illustrated anthology.

First, let’s be parochial and acclaim the only Australian children’s poet — Kate O’Neil — who has three poems in this collection of 50 newly written children’s poems. In fact, Kate’s poem features first in the book: ‘High Achievers’ is a strong free verse poem about children climbing a mountain despite adults telling them it’s impossible. She has also paid tribute, using wonderful imagery, to a well-known tourist attraction in her poem, ‘Paragliders Bald Hill Lookout’. Kate’s is the only poet whose name I recognise in this anthology. Among those who’ve had multiple poems published are Jennifer Watson, Louise Greig, and Christine Poreba. For some reason, there are only a few men poets whose work is represented.

Some of the poems were, I thought, too adult in concept and language to be of interest or comprehension to the average child, poems such as ‘Cup’s True Love’, ‘The Shape of Anne Frank’s Soul’, ‘Sondry Folk….the condicioun of ech of hem (Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales)’, ‘May’ and ‘The Old Sailor’s Song’. Mind you, these poems are still all excellent and worthy of publication!

There’s a wide range of poetry styles here, including a poem that uses cyberslang (Leone Anabella Bett’s ‘tech-toch’) and another which plays with dialect to show ‘langwidge changin’ (Rowland Molony’s ‘Hamid’). Ros Palmer has a three-page narrative poem titled ‘The Puzzler and the Stolen Jewels’ and many poems use imagery in ways that are soul-touching and memorable.

The poems I felt most suitable for children were generally short, child-centred and/or snappy, such as Poreba’s ‘An Itch’ and ‘How to Wake Up in Dog’, Ade Hall’s humorous teacher-directed ‘Astrophysics Lesson’, Sarah J Dodd’s ‘Ground to Air Warfare’ (about flying children) and Joanne Probert’s energetic ‘The Chase’. A six-line poem, ‘Mouse Grave’ by Greig, gave me goosebumps (it was, I thought, the best poem in the book), while I particularly loved the quirky and thought-provoking, ‘I am Going off to be a Hill’, another by Greig, and her ‘Invitation’, a quirky quatrain about a hungry crocodile.

There is so much to read and re-read in this book, and some wonderful words to chew and swish around one’s mouth – ‘fuggle,’ ‘mazy,’ ‘whiffles,’ ‘rizzed,’ ‘unchancey’ and ‘brain-net.’ It’s true what Mandy Coe writes on the back cover: ‘…… (you not only) want to read the poems aloud, but pick up a pen and write your own.’

Finally, it ought to be said that the book is beautifully illustrated with both coloured and black-and-white pictures. Some are prints, others collages, sketches or paintings, some are abstract, others are real-life. As with the poems, the illustrations amuse while others make one reflect; all make one stop and look. The most prolific illustrators in the book include Abigail Woodhouse, Anthony Cross, Steph Coathupe, Catherine Player and Bea Shireen. There is an index in the back of the book of both poets and illustrators, as well as a list of first lines. It’s a quibble, I know, but I would have liked a short biography on all of the contributors, too. Finally, it must be mentioned that the book comes with a jacket, the cover illustration being a wood engraving, ‘Flammarion’, artist unknown.

If you’d like to get your own copy of this new collection of poems for children, you can purchase it from Amazon, or direct from PB   RRP 8.99 English   ISBN9781910029008  


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